Gender Stereotypes and Bipolar Disorder

Gender biases are prevalent, but trained medical professionals should be able to overlook these and make accurate diagnoses, especially with serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.

Since bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose, some people may not understand the disease’s symptoms and unfairly assume they know someone’s personal struggles. Manic and depressive episodes are a part of bipolar disease, making people act in dramatic ways that fall into gender stereotypes.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder drastically change behavior and mood that goes far beyond typical shifts. The National Institute of Mental Health divides the symptoms of the disorder into two phases—mania and depression.

Gender Roles and Bipolar Disorder

The biological and social differences between men and women are important to note when diagnosing this disease. It is necessary to separate stereotypes from the diagnosis process—a goal passed by the World Health Organization in 2002.

Some people believe the common stereotype that women are more likely to have emotional problems, while men are more likely to have alcohol problems, according to a 2007 article in Singapore Medical Journal, “Gender differences in mental health.” Such attitudes can make it more likely for a physician to diagnose a woman with depression than a man, even if both have similar responses on a depression questionnaire.

Biological Differences and Bipolar Disorder

There are biological reasons that men and women have different rates of certain diseases. For a disease like bipolar disorder, men can have stronger manic episodes and less intense depressive moods, while women will have shorter and less strong manic episodes and longer depressed states, according to the Singapore Medical Journal article.

Gender Difference in Hormones and Bipolar Symptoms

Hormones also play a significant role in the severity of bipolar symptoms, and these fluctuating levels can have a more profound effect on women. Investigators at NIMH discovered that thyroid gland issues affect many people with bipolar disorder. Since the thyroid gland regulates hormones in the body, it also controls how sensitive the body is to other hormones.